LIFE GOES ON
MATING GAMES PART 7:
Moments of Silence
By Kimberly T. (email: kimbertow -at- yahoo dot com)
Standard disclaimers and acknowledgments apply. I'm not making a dime of profit; please don't sue.
Sunset came slowly that Tuesday afternoon… but it still came, as inevitable as ever, no matter how much Elisa was dreading it.
Fox had departed for Manhattan hours ago, taking a commercial flight rather than waiting for her husband to send their private jet. Elisa didn't blame her, really; even before the news they'd gotten that morning, Fox had been saying that she'd been away from her husband and infant son for nearly an entire week, and it was past time she headed back. But still, it seemed like Fox had left Elisa holding the bag on this one; left the policewoman to be the bearer of bad news.
Elisa knew that, as a police officer, she should be used to being the bearer of bad news. She'd long since lost count of how many times she'd had to tell people that someone's husband, wife or child had just died, whether by foul murder or tragic accident. Once she'd even had to explain to a latchkey kid who'd been home from school for two hours, that his mother was never coming home to fix that mac-n-cheese dinner like she'd promised. That had been the worst, the absolute worst notification ever; the only time Elisa had ever called her parents for help while on the job. Her mother and father had both come running, to stay with her and the bewildered, sobbing child until the social worker could make the time to come pick him up and take him away.
But repetition of this particular duty never made it easier. And this was the first time she'd had to give such bad news, about someone she'd actually known and cared about… and give such bad news to people she loved.
She stood in silence on the roof of the New Orleans Clan's mansion, waiting with Father Maurice, Adam's 'nursery brother'; several of the humans in the clan had heard the news by now, and the Catholic priest had felt it was his duty to be on hand for this occasion. He stood near the sleeping stone forms of Adam and his mate Elizabeth, while Elisa stood in front of Goliath, a few feet away. Goliath had gone to sleep with a smile on his face; one she'd put there, with her good-morning kiss a few seconds before he'd turned to stone. A smile that she was going to erase with her words to him, with everything that she had to tell him now, and she wondered if she'd ever see it again…
The sun sank below the horizon, and all across the roof stone skin cracked and fell away as gargoyles awoke and roared greetings to the night. After he finished stretching and shaking free of his stone skin, Goliath looked down at her with a smile even wider than before, a truly happy one. "Elisa!" But the smile faded fast, once he took a good look at her expression. "What is wrong?"
Elisa kept her voice steady, even if she couldn't keep the tears from coming again. "Goliath… Brentwood is dead."
Goliath gasped, even as his arms opened almost automatically to embrace her. "No! How…"
Elisa ran into his embrace, and sobbed into his chest, "He was killed by Quarrymen."
Goliath's roar of rage and grief brought everyone running, and soon they were surrounded by a huge, noisy cluster of gargoyles, asking each other what was going on. "She said somebody named Brentwood is dead!" "Who's Brentwood?" "Brentwood is someplace in southern California; Daphne went there last year on her tour!" "No, it's got to be somebody's name… maybe the last name of a clan-friend back in New York?"
After a few seconds of increasingly noisy babbling, Adam bellowed for silence. The noise abruptly cut off, and in the sudden harsh stillness, he asked Elisa to explain for all of them what had happened.
Elisa said quietly, "A gargoyle our clan knew is dead… Brentwood, a member of my brother Derek's clan in the Labyrinth. Last night the Quarrymen ambushed some clan members as they were coming home from an outing; they broke Malibu's wing, and murdered Brentwood as he was trying to save Delilah."
Elisa had more to say, but her words went unheard as the roof erupted into a noisy clamor of outrage against the Quarrymen, sympathy for the slain gargoyle, and puzzlement: had there been two clans of gargoyles in New York? This was the first time most of them had heard of it…
Someone asked that question of Brooklyn, and as he stood there dazedly running his talons through his mane, he muttered, "Well, sort-of… they're not really…"
His words fell into a momentary lull in the noise, and everyone turned to look at him. Leaving Goliath and Elisa to their grief, Adam stalked over to him to demand, " 'Sort-of, not really'? Not really what, not really a clan? Not really gargoyles?"
"Well, sort-of both," Brooklyn said uncomfortably. "We don't like to talk about 'em much. They're our clones… this mad scientist-type named Sevarius made clones of us all, so Demona and this other clone named Thailog could have a clan of their own; one that could help them destroy us. But when Thailog decided to betray Demona too, they, well, after we beat 'em they all ended up in the Labyrinth. There are—were—five of them living there, but now they're down to four… Brentwood was Lexington's clone."
After a long moment of silence, Adam said slowly, "They have individual names, I take it. Do they have minds of their own?"
"Well, yeah, but--"
"Do they have wings, and tails, and turn to stone during the day?"
Brooklyn hung his head. "Yes."
Adam's expression was severe. "Then they are gargoyles."
Ursula stepped up then, her hand on Hudson's arm, gently leading him forward. Hudson's head was bowed with grief and his good eye was leaking tears as she spoke for him: "Hudson told me about them, but I didn't realize no one else had said anything about them. The clones all have the minds of hatchlings, and one of them, a female named Delilah, is carrying an egg…"
"An egg, this year?" "How is that possible?" and other amazed mutterings swept through the clan. Brooklyn tried to explain that it was apparently due to Delilah's different biology; she was half-human… And that's when Elizabeth, mate to Adam, almost pounced on Brooklyn, demanding in outrage, "So that's why you think they're 'not really' gargoyles? Because of some human blood?! You bigoted--"
"Easy, Elizabeth," Adam said soothingly, his own half-human hand on his mate's arm. "I'm sure it's the thought that they were created in a laboratory, more than any human blood, that made the Manhattan Clan doubt their true nature."
Hudson said to Elisa in a voice thick with tears, "Ye said Brentwood died while tryin' ta save Delilah; are she an' her egg safe, or…?"
"I was told she was hurt, but not badly, and her egg seems okay," Elisa relayed with a sniffle.
Having pulled Elizabeth away from Brooklyn, Adam made his way back over to Goliath and said in low tones that did not disguise his own slowly increasing outrage, "Why didn't you tell us about them? You keep saying that your clan has to return to Manhattan, because the media knows of you, but apparently nobody knew of these gargoyles until last night; they could have been brought safely down here with you, and with no one else the wiser! And one of them is already with egg! I can scarcely believe that after all your trouble with the Quarrymen, after fighting a battle with them that cost Broadway his wing and surely left them hungry for vengeance for their eleven slain soldiers, you gave no thought to the danger to--"
Goliath had been standing there with his head bowed, clutching Elisa while letting the tears come, but now he raised his head to stare at Adam uncomprehendingly. "What slain soldiers? We haven't killed any Quarrymen, not even the assassin who smashed Broadway's wing!"
"Assassin?" Adam stared back at him in equal confusion. "We read about the pitched battle in the newspapers, the morning before we met you! It could scarcely have been a hoax, with all the papers agreeing that eleven dead bodies had been found!"
Now Goliath began to raise his voice. "There was no battle--"
"Yes there was." Elisa's voice was quiet and miserable.
Goliath stared down at his mate. "Elisa?"
"There was a battle; the same night Broadway was in surgery. When that damn helicopter that was buzzing the castle left so suddenly, it was going off to join the fight… and ended up being knocked out of the sky, everyone aboard killed, along with eight other Quarrymen. Not by us or by the clones, but by Demona, with the help of some foreign gargoyles. We think they came from Ishimura…"
Ignoring everyone else's expressions of shock, Goliath demanded, "Why—why didn't you tell me this before now?!"
"Because eleven Quarrymen died, and until a few days ago we didn't know for sure who had done it; it might have even been costume-wearing imposters! But the city was screaming for gargoyle blood!" Elisa explained tearfully. "We knew that if you knew about it, you'd want to stay and investigate, to find out who'd done it, but we had to get you out of town before they stormed the castle with SWAT teams!" She sniffled as she twisted slightly to look at Adam, "Your arrival was a Godsend; if it weren't for you and your clan here, our clan would have had nowhere else to go, except for Xanadu and the press knows about that place already... Goliath, please don't break my arms…"
Goliath's grip had been tightening on her arms, enough to pierce holes in the leather of her jacket, but now he abruptly released her and backed away. "You…" After a few long moments of just staring at her in silence, he turned around and shoved his way through the crowd, to dive off the edge of the roof and glide away.
Elisa fell sobbing to her knees. Adam and Hudson stared down at her in silent consternation, but both were abruptly shoved aside as Elizabeth and Ursula went to crouch beside her. "There, there, m'cherie; it will all work out," Elizabeth murmured, putting an arm around her shoulders. "Let him go and stomp a 'gator or two, and he'll be back; you've not lost him forever."
"Yes I have!" Elisa sobbed. "I lied to him… I did what Demona did! He'll never forgive that…"
"You acted to save the clan; to avoid a battle that they had almost no chance of winning," Ursula said firmly. "Given time, surely he'll come to see that." Then she turned to give both Adam and Hudson a piercing gaze. "Don't you two have somebody to go after? Adam, Goliath probably doesn't have experience in hunting gators yet; you could show him how it's done!"
Elizabeth turned to face the males as well, agreeing, "It would be a fine idea if you let him do some hunting to work his aggression off, before bringing him back here…"
"And hosing him down before he comes inside!" Ursula finished, as she helped Elisa to her feet. "Now let's get you downstairs, cherie; our Martha makes a fine cocoa, that will help anyone see the brighter side of life again. Never forget that you acted to save your mate and clan-kin…"
The three females departed the roof, leaving Adam and Hudson looking at each other. "I'm thinking we'd best do as the ladies said," Hudson said finally.
"I learned a long time ago that it's no good arguing with the two of them together," Adam said wryly. "But before we leave…"
Father Maurice came up to Adam and said solemnly, "Stephen and I can handle all the arrangements for a remembrance ceremony, the hour before dawn."
"Good," Adam nodded. "We'll have Goliath back and presentable before then, one way or another. Have everyone in town notified, if they haven't been already…"
The people in town had indeed been notified; word had been sent to the safe house during the day. The gargoyles staying in town were informed upon awakening of what had occurred in New York, as well as the news that the delivery truck was waiting to take them back to the estate.
The delivery truck couldn't hold all of them, so Lexington, Rebecca and Robert were put into it for the first trip back to the estate; the current patrollers said they'd come in a few hours before dawn, to be there for whatever remembrance ceremony would be held.
The trip back to the estate was mostly silent, with Lex sitting hunched over on a bench in the back of the truck, and Rebecca and Robert flanking him on either side, looking worriedly at him. After several minutes, Rebecca said hesitantly, "Lex? You haven't said a word since we left the safe house… What are you thinking?"
Lex's response was terse. "Bad thoughts."
"If it's about those Quarrymen, ain't nobody here who would blame you," Robert muttered.
"No kidding. Want to help me make up some booby-traps for 'em when we get to the workshop?" Rebecca asked darkly. "I've got some ideas already."
"Not just about them," Lex muttered. "About me, too…"
"Why?" Rebecca asked.
"Because… I didn't like him. Brentwood. It wasn't his fault, he didn't ask to be made in a test tube, didn't ask to be made out of part of me, but I didn't like him. Every time I looked at him, he gave me the creeps; he looked like me but he wasn't me, all the colors were wrong and he couldn't even add two and two and he wasn't me but it wasn't his fault and now he's dead and I never even tried to like him…"
Lex ran out of words, and went back to just staring at the floor. Robert and Rebecca stared at him, then at each other, then finally just shook their heads and went back to sitting and waiting in silence.
Angela and Broadway sat at the edge of the roof, side by side, not saying a word. Neither of them had said a word since they'd awoken at dusk. At first, their silence had been from shock, from hearing the news Elisa had to give… all the news, including what had happened on the same night Broadway had been operated on. They might have had questions for her, but every question they would have asked either had already been asked and answered… or simply couldn't be asked right now. Now their silence was uncomfortable, full of worry and sadness and even embarrassment, at all they'd reluctantly witnessed and all they knew but did not say aloud.
Demona had killed eleven Quarrymen, and started the city of New York screaming for gargoyle blood. Demona, the gargoyle that Angela still called 'mother'.
Elisa had hidden that fact from the clan; hidden it from her mate, their leader. Moreover, she'd worked with Xanatos to get the clan out of the city before they could find out what had happened. In effect, she'd denied Goliath the chance to deal with the situation, usurping his role as leader of the clan.
Demona had done something similar, a thousand years ago; secretly concocting a plan with the captain of the guard at Wyvern that was supposed to result in the castle being left to their kind, free of the humans who hated them so. Instead, that conspiracy had resulted in the slaughter of nearly all the clan.
Elisa's plan had resulted in the clan of cloned gargoyles being left behind in New York, still in the danger zone. And now, one of them was dead.
Most of the clan hadn't had anything to do with the clones if they could help it; only Hudson had really reached out to them. He'd been helping to teach those children-in-adult-bodies to read, just as he'd learned to read after reaching adulthood. Of the rest of the gargoyles, Broadway and Angela had been as guilty as any of avoiding the clones if they could.
Lucretia and Cassius had quietly shooed away the gargoyles who had wanted to talk to them, before leaving them to their thoughts. As Lucretia had quietly said before gliding away, "We know you have much to think about. You know you can come to us, or to anyone in the clan, when you're ready to talk."
Now, nearly an hour after awakening, Broadway broke the silence with a quiet, "When we go back, I'm going to be nicer to Hollywood. Maybe I can show him how to cook, or something."
"I'll be nicer to all of them," Angela said quietly.
"Um, Angela, you don't have to answer this if you don't want to… but why didn't you like any of them? None of them are your clone…"
Angela just looked down at the ground below and shook her head. "I don't know. I never asked myself why… Maybe it's because they were made by Sevarius, and everything that human does is evil. I guess some part of me always expects them to attack us again, like they were programmed to do. I know it's not their fault, but… Delilah, especially…" as she gave a slight shudder.
"What about Delilah?"
"Whenever she sees Father, she stares at him… like she hopes he'll somehow turn into Thailog for her. Like she hopes he'll… it's just wrong." Angela's lip curled back to reveal a fang.
Broadway turned to look at her in surprise. "I never noticed her staring at Goliath."
"She doesn't do it often, or for very long… especially not if Elisa's around. Then she'll stare at Elisa, and call her 'friend-mother' and…" Angela shook her head. "I just don't like her, okay? But I'll try to be nicer to her, too."
Broadway slowly nodded, and they resumed just sitting there in silence. But the silence was no more comfortable than before, and finally Broadway broke it by wondering aloud, "Where did Brooklyn go, anyway? He was supposed to go on a date with Isabel tonight, right? But this isn't exactly a night for courting…"
No, it was definitely not a night for courting. Brooklyn had slunk away as soon as the crowd of gargoyles had permitted, brusquely telling the females hovering about that he was in no mood for company. Stephen had followed and stopped him before he could glide off into the bayou like Goliath had, so Stephen could ask some questions about how Brooklyn's clan performed remembrance ceremonies. But after a few minutes of solemn and terse conversation, Stephen had gone off to make preparations, leaving Brooklyn sitting alone with only the accusing voices inside his head for company.
Adam and Elizabeth's rebuke had stung Brooklyn to the core… because they were right. He was bigoted. Not about Delilah's human blood, but about not considering Malibu and the others to be real gargoyles, just because they hadn't been hatched in a rookery. It was not only bigoted but pretty damn stupid of him, considering that he'd accepted Elisa, a full-blooded human, as clan even before she and Goliath had become mates. She was clan, considered a gargoyle at heart, and she sure hadn't been hatched from an egg! What was wrong with him, that he just couldn't accept Malibu and the others?
So Malibu had been made from his genes; when had parentage ever mattered to a gargoyle? Angela excepted, of course, and that was only because she'd been raised by humans. Anyway, the fact that Malibu was shaped a lot like him shouldn't matter to him any more than remembering the gray beaked gargoyle who had taught Brooklyn how to glide over a thousand years ago. That gargoyle might well have been Brooklyn's biological father, but that hadn't mattered back then, and the fact that Brooklyn was Malibu's 'father' shouldn't matter worth a stone shard now. So why had Brooklyn always balked at the thought of meeting him again?
Maybe part of it was because it had always bothered him that the male clones' eyes were red, instead of white-irised like normal. But what gargoyle in his right mind ever judged someone by so trivial a matter as color? For pity's sake, he himself was dating girls with feathered wings, and even from the start he hadn't doubted that they were normal and perfectly fine gargoyles.
Okay, so the first time he'd met Malibu, the clone had decked him. The first time he'd met Macbeth, he'd been caged! But nowadays, he was okay with Macbeth being an ally to the clan, and more-or-less leader of the P.I.T. Besides, Malibu just plain hadn't known any better, back then; he'd been pulled out of his—his test tube thingy, Lex would know the right word—just a few nights before the battle, and been told not much more than "Obey Thailog." Who could fault a gargoyle for obeying his leader, when he just didn't know enough to know his leader was evil?
So they were 'slow', like humans with Down's Syndrome; acting like hatchlings, in adult bodies. That was because they were hatchlings inside! By the Dragon, they hadn't been breathing for even six months yet; most hatchlings couldn't do more than cry and crawl at that age! By hatchlings standards, they were a bunch of super-geniuses, and Hudson had said once that he was fairly sure that, given a few years of teaching and training, they'd be as knowledgeable and capable as anyone in the old clan! But that training would be given to only four gargoyles now…
The next time he saw Malibu, he owed that guy a really big apology, as well as his condolences about Brentwood. A really, really big apology; a wings-drooping, neck-exposed, take-all-my-hunting-kills-for-a-week kind of apology. Because he knew that if he'd just done the right thing from the start, if he'd just accepted Malibu as a gargoyle, he could probably have convinced the other guys and Angela to do the same. And the poor clones would have been taken into the clan; he knew Goliath had wanted that, and had only let Talon take them because he hadn't wanted to alienate the rest of his clan members. And they would have been there in the castle when Adam had arrived and told them about the clan here in New Orleans. And they'd be down here right now, happy as everyone else had been, instead of back in Manhattan. And Brentwood would still be alive, instead of dead and gravel…
"You want to talk about it?"
He looked up, to see Isabel standing not twenty feet away from it. Angered at the intrusion, he snarled, "What part of 'just leave me alone' did you not understand?"
"If you really wanted to be alone, you would have gone out into the bayou," Isabel said matter-of-factly as she stepped forward. "Since you're perched right here, I figured you might be wanting to talk eventually."
Brooklyn looked down at what he'd perched on, an old canvas tarpaulin that mostly covered a pile of car parts and other pieces of scrap metal. Just a dumping ground, which was appropriate, considering how down in the dumps he was feeling right now… but he found no humor in he pun. "What's so special about 'right here'?" he growled.
Isabel crossed her arms and gave him a considering look. "You don't remember at all, do you? My mistake; should've known better. I'll just leave you be, then," as she turned away.
"Huh? Hey, wait!" he called after her. "What's so special about this pile of junk?"
"It's my source pile," Isabel informed him as she turned to face him again. "I told you the night we met that I make metalworking and 'found art' sculptures. Every few weeks, someone in the clan takes the truck to the dump or the wrecking yard and brings back some parts for me to work with, and you're sitting on my raw materials. Look, since our date tonight is obviously off, why not just give me a hand hauling some of this into my workshop, so I can work on my next project while waiting for the remembrance ceremony? Once I've got what I want out of the pile, you can have it for moping on again."
"I was not moping," Brooklyn growled, but he jumped off his perch atop the pile and helped her tug the canvas off it. From the pile of rusty metal formed in various shapes and sizes that was revealed, Isabel pulled out a rusted bicycle frame, a car door that was missing the window, a couple of dented hubcaps and what looked like part of a washing machine. And after throwing the tarpaulin back over everything else, Brooklyn decided it would only be polite to help her carry her materials back to her shop. He had to admit, he was kind of curious to find out what she intended to make of all this junk…
In his youth, long before he had become leader of the Wyvern Clan, Hudson had been well-respected for his tracking ability. He hadn't had as much opportunity to use his tracking skills while leading the clan, but once he'd handed the role of leader over to Goliath and become merely an elder and mentor, he'd had plenty of opportunity to sharpen his old skills while teaching them to youngsters; losing one eye had taken away his depth perception, but not dulled his instincts, intellect or sense of smell. After they'd awoken in this modern era, he hadn't had as much opportunity to track prey, except for the occasional rabbit or squirrel in Central Park… and for a few months there, when he'd feared he was going blind entirely, he hadn't done any tracking at all. But now that the good doctors had restored the sight in his right eye, he could once more follow a trail with relative ease.
Not that he needed a trail to follow while tracking Goliath tonight. All he needed to do was cock an ear and listen for the sounds of destruction…
For the last hour or so, Hudson and Adam had been in the bayou together, quietly keeping track of Goliath while the Manhattan Clan's leader took out his hurt, anger and whatever else he was feeling on the local flora and fauna. So far Goliath had turned two dead cypress trees into piles of kindling and completely uprooted a live tree, ripped the throat out of a swamp deer, turned two nutria that hadn't run fast enough into mere scraps of bloody fur and killed an eight-foot-long gator as well. "Looks like I don't need to teach him how to kill them after all," Adam had murmured after watching Goliath pick the gator up by its tail with a vicious snarl, and swing it violently around to bash its brains out against a tree trunk.
"The lad's always had a talent for quick kills," Hudson had murmured back. As Goliath continued raging deeper into the bayou, Adam and Hudson had taken the time to hoist the carcasses of the deer and the gator up into the trees, to keep them out of reach of other predators until they could be retrieved later for the clan's dinner; waste not, want not.
Now, while watching a still-snarling Goliath rip yet another tree apart with his talons, Adam murmured, "This is really overreacting…"
"Aye; even mateless youngsters facing their first breeding season alone aren't normally this destructive," Hudson agreed.
"You've known him from the egg; how long do you think it will take for him to cool down? And does he always overreact like this? Yes, Elisa temporarily usurped his role; she abused her privilege as leader's mate and his trust in her. But she acted to save the clan; can't he understand that?"
Hudson sighed heavily. "He will, in time… but I've a feeling it's more than just what Elisa did a short while ago that's got him going on so. 'Tis past hurts, as well, that are boiling up inside him now. Hurts that cut so deep they'll likely never completely heal, not for any of us, but especially for him. We told ye about a bit about Demona; about how she had secretly concocted a plan that would rid old Castle Wyvern of its humans and leave it solely to us, but it went awry and nearly all the clan was slaughtered instead…"
"And after that, she went criminally insane," Adam finished. "And later she became immortal as well, thanks to some Fey spell, so she's spent the past several centuries rampaging across the globe trying to find ways to wipe out all of humanity."
"Aye. But what no one has said 'til now is that, before the massacre… Demona was Goliath's mate."
"That means 'dung', right? Aye, merde fits too well," Hudson agreed.
Adam stared bleakly after Goliath as the lavender gargoyle picked up a large branch from the tree he'd just ripped apart, flung it far into the air with another howl of rage and raw agony, and went stomping further into the bayou. "He's going to be at this all night, isn't he?"
To be continued…